Mardi Gras. Ash Wednesday. You may be familiar with these terms, but did you know that they are all a part of a tradition called Lent?
Lent is celebrated during the forty days (excluding Sundays) before Easter. It is a time set aside to prepare for the Easter holiday and to reflect on Jesus Christ- His suffering and His sacrifice for mankind. For 2019, Lent begins on March 6th and will officially end on the Thursday before Easter, April 18th. Typically, Lent is practiced by giving up something that you enjoy, usually food, for the forty days to encourage you to focus on Christ.
Lent is an old tradition, dating back to the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. The Church would prepare for Lent by celebrating Mardi Gras, which means “Fat Tuesday” in French. Unlike the modern-day celebrations of Mardi Gras, this was not a time for drunken revelries but a day that Christians would use to prepare by getting rid of all the food items in their homes that were not allowed during Lent: specifically sugars and meats. Each household would use up all the items which were not allowed during Lent on Fat Tuesday so as not to be wasteful. Consequently, this created a rather large feast in each home which is how Mardi Gras got its name.
The day after Mardi Gras is Ash Wednesday and is considered the first official day of Lent. During a special Ash Wednesday service, a pastor or church leader will use ashes to draw a cross on each church member’s forehead, to remind us of Jesus and the great price He paid for us by dying on the cross. The ashes represent the verse in Genesis which says, “for dust you are and to dust you will return.” This is to remind us all that we will eventually die and be accountable for the sins that we committed while on Earth. By accepting this gift and asking for forgiveness of our sins, we are made sons and daughters of God and accepted into His loving family, with all of our sins washed clean.
During the 40 days of Lent, Christians are encouraged to abstain from something of importance to them, usually food, to represent the 40 days in which Jesus himself fasted and prayed in the wilderness. The days of Lent are to be used as a time to turn away from earthly comforts and to renew our hearts to our loving Father. By giving up something that normally takes up a lot of our time or thoughts, and giving that time to God, we give ourselves the opportunity to become aware of any parts of our lives that do not please God and to refocus on what is important: our relationship with Christ!
If you have not ever taken part in Lent before, we encourage you to try it this year! Consider making Lent a family tradition, or grab a few friends and commit to encouraging each other through Lent. While fasting a meal is the most common fast for Lent, some may be unable to participate due to health concerns. Here are a few extra ideas for you to consider for Lent this year:
Your Snooze Button
Take the 30 minutes you would usually spend sleeping in to pray or spend extra time in your Bible. Use this time to ask God specifically what He would have you learn from Lent.
Fast Food / Coffee
Rather than using Lent as a kick start to your diet, trying taking the money you would have normally spent on your favorite fast food or drink and give it away. Ask God to show you a ministry that you could give to, either in your local church or to a national ministry.
Social Media / Netflix
You would be surprised to see how much time you spend on the internet if you were abstaining from it for a period of time. Instead of reaching for your phone or tablet, try spending the time you would normally use to surf in prayer and study.